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Part I: Jane Martin | Investing in Innovation

In another two-part blog post, we are highlighting the work and wisdom of venture capitalist Jane Martin. In her interview with our Xtern, Anna Carpenter, Jane discusses her career in venture capital and her love for investing in innovation.


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“I started out as a woman in finance in 1971 and ended up working for a Fortune 100 company as a security analyst and portfolio manager. This was 3 years before the calculator was invented; I started out using a slide rule for calculation. I interviewed for the position after receiving my undergraduate degree in finance from Indiana University.

Luckily, we had a CEO at the Fortune 100 company that I left who believed in cross-pollinating different people through our investment department. He asked a few of us in each area of investment to go spend a year in another area; in my case, I was working in common stocks and had to spend a year working in bonds. The next place I went was the venture capital department. One of the innovations there was to use our big dollars in venture capital to become a key limited partner in some of the California partnerships with some of the new venture firms like Sequoia, US Venture Partners, and Mayfield.

Working as a limited partner through my Fortune 100 company, I was on boards with those partners, we did investments together, I got to know them well, and when they raised a new big fund in 1979, they asked me to join them as a general partner. It was a wonderful job opportunity.

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I moved to California and joined a US Venture Partners as a 6th partner. There were not many women in Silicon Valley or in venture capital in 1979. Venture capital is innately an innovation business. My firm, US Venture Partners, invested in Sun Microsystems when Scott McNealy came down Sand Hill Road from Stanford with his master’s thesis, along with Bill Joy. I’ve been in venture capital ever since– I retired in the 1990s, couldn’t stay retired, and I joined a Massachusetts-based venture firm in the late ‘90s, which I retired from just a couple of years ago.

My whole life has been full of innovation and having the privilege of funding companies that create new medical and technical innovations, among others. That’s really where innovation starts– big companies can’t afford to be investing in leading edge innovation. It’s too risky, there’s too much failure, and they don’t encourage failure. Big companies encourage safety, so innovation comes from outside of big companies in small companies that are very high-risk, but very innovative. That’s the role of angel investing and venture capital, to bring innovation into essentially all industries. I’ve you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind– there’s no standing still in our global economy.

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Every time I try to retire from the venture capital business, I always miss working with the most optimistic people on the planet, which are entrepreneurs. There’s no other type of person whose adrenaline is triggered by innovation and calculated risk taking. They see a vision of the world bigger than everybody else and are driven to make that happen. I’ve been privileged in my career to see a lot of innovation happen and to be able to be part of an innovation ecosystem. I’ve been able to find some innovation, even in some sleepier industries, like retail and consumer products– there is innovation in everyday products. Helping innovators solve problems has been very gratifying for me and it makes it hard for me to stay retired.

The two keys to what helped me most in my career were finding a way to become relevant to a network of venture capitalists and through that, becoming known and then getting the opportunity to actually join a Silicon Valley partnership. Earlier, the mentorships that I had really helped in my professional development. In any organization, there are sort of the written rules, and then there are the real rules, and mentors help you with the real rules.  

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There’s nothing more encouraging to a young person starting out their career than having a person you respect believe in you enough to take time and effort to encourage you along the way. That’s what mentors did for me, that’s what I try to do when I’m mentoring young entrepreneurs, to let them know I believe in them and to help them migrate the minefield that’s out there for all of us.”


Part 1 of 2  |  Read Part 2 here

 

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